Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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How Can I Use the Sun to Light My Home

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We want healthier lives. We want to pay less on our energy bills. We can use the sun to make us feel better and light our homes, but we do not need to rely on solar power.

I have walked into homes that are dark for my home inspections. In one way this is good; items pop when hit by the beam of a flashlight. I have found windows boarded up on homes that were not foreclosures. I have seen aluminum foil covering the windows. I see heavy blankets over windows as well. We block out the sun, when its rays could brighten our days. I am not sure if we are trying to block out the cold (Houston is never too cold), or if we are blocking out the heat of its rays. The problem may lie in the window. You may be hearing more about passive design, the idea of using non-mechanical means to accomplish functions in the home. When I think of passive design, I consider how can we change the design or accommodate the design to allow to accomplish a goal without energy or mechanical equipment that needs energy to operate.
Speaking of lighting from the sun, my companion turned his thoughts to solar power. Houston may do well with this form of energy. The cost factor can prevent many from going this route. I use solar for outside lights, and I would love to have this as part of my energy plan in the house; however, I cannot afford this option at the moment, and the idea of replacing one form of energy with another is problematic for me. Before looking into clean energy options that I can install on my home, I first wish to reduce the need for that energy. I began considering options of using only daylight to light my home during the day. Here is my list of how we can use the sun to light our home:

Low emission windows/ Energy efficient windows–  I saw a demonstration of how these windows can block the the heat transmitted by sunlight, it was incredible to see how effective they are. These windows allow you to open up your space to the sun without the heat. These newer windows also prevent the cold from getting through. You are increasing the r-value of your window spaces with these units. The drawback for some is the cost. On my older home, I would have to custom order the units, which increases the expense. If I have them installed, that is another cost to cover.

A solar tube or a skylight– these devices can bring light into rooms where windows are hard to fit or have no exterior wall. Skylights are cheaper, but they do have a bad reputation for leaking. The solar light tubes are well designed to maximize the light being captured. I have not heard of these leaking like a skylight, but this tube might have that problem as does any protrusion through the roof. I have seen estimates of having a unit installed being around $500. Most sizes for the home run between $150 to $250 per unit, if you wish to install it on your own. These units are good, but again this may be one expense that we do not want.

Adding windows or transoms– transoms, windows above door ways, used to be more common. The door was solid, but the transom allowed light inside. You can still find transoms on older homes. What you will not commonly find are transoms located above interior doors. These transoms allowed light from a room along the exterior to share its light with an interior hallway. Transoms also served another function: allowing air flow from room to room, which is now achieved with jump drives. Adding windows does take some effort, but you can pick a standard size. I have found people considering more light fixtures over adding windows, so I wanted to give credence to the idea of adding a window as a possible solution. Besides, I love transoms.

Mirrors– Have you ever seen DaVinci’s design for a wall sconce that allowed a single candle to amplify its light? Even he was thinking of energy efficiency. The light tubes use a mirrored surface to help light the home too. Adding a mirror to a space that obtains some light can increase the light in that space. Mirrors can be quite decorative in that regard. I am wondering if anyone has taken the DaVinci idea of a faceted mirror behind the light source to help increase the dispersal of light into consideration in a fixture. Strategically placing a light fixture and mirror together may be better than adding another fixture. I was playing with the idea of could could a mirror capture the sun’s light, and be focused into a darker corner of the home. Looking at a mirror in my garage, I joked that I could set it below a window to reflect light into the home. Believe it or not, that idea was developed in Berlin over a hundred years ago, and there are people discussing it today. In the design, the mirror sits on a frame, so the mirror can be positioned to reflect light into the house, or it could be turned to be an awning to shade, depending upon the need. I am not a big fan of the mirrored wall, but I will admit that I have seen them in home inspections, where I found them to be an excellent way of adding light to a space.

Lastly, I would say open the shades and  plan out your plantings. Can someone explain to me the desire to leave shades closed? I find such dark rooms depressing, so I think it is a matter of mental health to be exposed to the sun. I have a deciduous tree that blocks the sun during the summer, and allows light to shine through in the winter. I do not cover my windows with plantings. On my inspections, I find problems around windows that are covered by plants. I understand that this can be a screening technique, but the screen can be further away from the home, which would be better for the structure. Go ahead and love the sun. Let it brighten your home.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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